Today I want to talk about self-love. You have probably heard of self-love before, or perhaps you may be familiar with its close relative: selfcare. The idea of self -love is all over the place but I think that it is largely misguided in that the true meaning and understanding get lost in translation, or worse, intentionally misconstrued by marketers and corporations who want to profit on the insecurity of others and teach them to engage in spontaneous, or extravagant behavior in order to better love oneself.
Self love has often been described in terms of indulgences: give yourself this nice decadent meal because you deserve it and love yourself. Treat yourself to a spa day because you deserve that feeling of relaxation, pampering and comfort. In a lot of ways I do support the pampering and enjoyment of the finer things in life. This can be an appropriate form of expressing happiness and appreciation, when done in moderation. In moderation being the key as it can be difficult to curb our craving for more. For this post though I don’t want to focus so much on caring for oneself, and treating oneself to a spa, or a comfy new mattress, as a form of self love. I want to talk about one of the key steps to happiness, which is truly loving oneself.
What self-love is, is understanding, appreciation, and knowledge of oneself. Knowing that you are imperfect but loving yourself all the same. Being perfectly imperfect, as Psychologist Pia Mellody would say. You should love yourself for who you are and realize that you do not any sort of external THING, or attachment to make them happy.
I was first turned towards this particular notion of self-love when I read How to Love by a Jesuit priest named Anthony De Mello. What I thought I was opening was a book that was going to teach me how to be a better partner for my girlfriend, a guide book on how to properly love and care for her. What I got instead was a book that taught me to love myself first and foremost. At first I was confused and thought that this seemed selfish and vain, and resolved that I would read a few chapters before putting it down and moving on.
After just a chapter or two though, I was hooked on De Mello’s message, and soon came to realize that by loving myself wholly and truly was not selfish but would allow me to become a better lover for my girlfriend , a better friend, son, and brother, and to that matter a better citizen and lover of the world at large.
|Anthony De Mello (1931-1987)|
De Mello’s thoughts on love focus on the idea that one ought to have no attachments. Anything and everything can be taken from us at any moment, except for ourselves; and that so long as our sense of happiness is tied up to any external attachment: another person, our lover, our wealth, fame, success, titles, career whatever, then we are vulnerable to disappointment and cannot truly be happy. Those things are bot ephemeral and not truly ours, and as such we can be deprived of them. What we cannot be deprived of is ourselves.
Among his writings in how to love, De Mello says that love can be found through understanding the following:
1. That we have been misled by believing that we cannot be happy without X: our romantic partner, our wealth, our status, etc., any attachment, which ultimately lies outside of our control and doesn’t truly belong to us.
2. If you are able to recognize that you do not need this attachment, that you can enjoy what the world has to offer without possessing it, without missing it, and without fear of losing, for you never have it in the first place, then you will be happy.
Much grief exists in today’s world because we are led to believe that without this or that that we cannot be happy. But no, true love can only come from those intangibles that cannot be taken from us, that which we have control over: our self (sounds similar to the Stoic concept of only focusing on that which is within your control: ie yourself.)
True happiness comes from letting go of attachments and focusing on yourself. Once you learn to love yourself as you are, you will realize happiness. I encourage you to love others, surround yourself with a romantic partner and close friends, but do not define your sense of happiness in this but rather in your deep appreciation and love of yourself.
I leave you with the hope that you will learn to realize you do not need anyTHING to be happy or to love yourself and that you are worthy and deserving of your own love right here right now. Once you have that, I hope you can put forth love and happiness into the world, but with the understanding that though it is there and worth love, happiness, and appreciation, it does not BELONG to you. Enjoy, be happy, but remain unattached.